Five Best Friday Columns

On the page program, the 'T' in LGBT, and spending on America's youth

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Jennifer Finney Boylan on Remembering the T in LGBT  Author Jennifer Finney Boylan remembers a man at a ventriloquist convention saying to her "A bunch of magicians in the same room? That's a conversation. A bunch of ventriloquists? That's an argument." Boylan watched New York pass its marriage equality law and thought, "More than a few transgender people feel they've been sold out by the gay-rights movement and lament the way the 'T' in 'L.G.B.T.' always comes last. It makes me think, 'A bunch of straight people in a room? That's a conversation. A bunch of L.G.B.T. people in a room? That's an argument.'" Much more urgent to the LGBT community than marriage rights should be the statistics on violence and discrimination toward transgender people, she argues in The New York Times "Forty-one percent of [trans] respondents reported attempting suicide; of those who came out as students, 78 percent reported harassment, 35 percent physical assault and 12 percent sexual violence." It makes sense, though, that as gay men and lesbians enter the mainstream, their issues come first, she says. What's more, trans people tend to further subdivide into categories like "transsexual" and "transgender". "We can't afford that," she says. "[P]rogress in civil rights can only come with the numbers and resources found in unity."

Amanda Marshall on the Congressional Page Program  Today Show producer Amanda Marshall served as a Congressional page in 1995, she writes in The New York Times. The pages answered phones, took out trash, and performed administrative tasks. "We didn't make history, but we helped make history possible," she writes. "No wonder so many elected officials got their first taste of politics as Congressional pages--it is a life-changing experience." Marshall laments that John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi recently announced they would cut the House's page program to save money. "Mr. Boehner and Ms. Pelosi argue... that it had outlived its usefulness, that in the Internet era, the House simply doesn’t need glorified messengers," she said. "But pages were more than messengers. They did the critical jobs that people often forget about: collecting a congressman's prepared remarks after a speech, so they could be added to the official record; raising the American flag over the south wing of the Capitol when the House was in session; even waking up members when they were catching a nap during late-night sessions." The program serves not only Congress, but the pages, who learn quickly, and are often inspired to go into government themselves (or in Marshall's case, into journalism). "It is a shame that, to save a few dollars, Congress has forgotten that this is where political dreams start," she writes.

Charles Rappleye on the Revolution and America's Establishment of Public Credit  At the nation's birth, it faced government loans to foreign creditors and a collapsed currency. "The funding situation of the nascent American government slipped into genuine crisis in 1780, prompting Congress to appoint Robert Morris, a celebrated Philadelphia capitalist, to the new position of superintendent of finance," writes Morris biographer Charles Rappleye in the Los Angeles Times. Morris supported the relatively novel theory that "public debt, supported by public confidence, or credit, could actually be a boon to the people at large," and this public debt could be used in peacetime to undertake big projects. To do it, he needed to convince the new states to enforce reasonable taxes at a time when the people had just rebelled against Britain chiefly over taxation. Morris failed, but luckily British military blunders won America the war despite its poor funding. But a postwar recession convinced Morris and others to push for a stronger central authority with taxing powers that could repay war debts. Rappleye points modern American legislators to a sensible quote from Morris to draw a parallel to debates over public debt today: "The payment of debts may well be expensive, but it is infinitely more expensive to withhold the payment," Morris warned. "The former is an expense of money, when money may be commanded to defray it; but the latter involves the destruction of that source from whence money can be derived when all other sources fail. That source, abundant, nay almost inexhaustible, is public credit."

Peggy Noonan on America's Growing Youth Problem  Peggy Noonan says the British riots jarred Americans in part because "we saw something over there that in smaller ways we're starting to see over here." The British press was right to nearly universally eschew political excuses for the rioters, she writes in The Wall Street Journal. They were not rioting because of injustices, she says. "The causes were greed, selfishness, a respect and even lust of violence, and a lack of moral grounding." Noonan blames it, too, on the entitlement felt by those who benefit from Britain's welfare state. "Much of what they have is provided by others, but they are not grateful: dependency doesn't encourage gratitude but resentment." Signs in America point to a similar problem, one that is also not motivated by politics: "flash mobs" in Philadelphia, beatings at the Wisconsin State Fair, and YouTube videos of fights on subways. "Some of these young people come from brokenness, shallowness and terror, and are bringing those things into the world with them," she says. Noonan cites the rising number of abused children and foster children. "Some of these youngsters become miracle children. In spite of the hand they were dealt, they learn to be constructive, successful, givers to life. But many, we know, do not. Some will wind up on YouTube." In a time of cutbacks, people cannot reasonably expect the government to solve this growing problem. "Where does that leave us?" she wonders. "In a hard place, knowing in our guts that a lot of troubled kids are coming up, and not knowing what to do about it."

Michael Gerson on Spending More on the Old Than the Young  S&P's embarrassing downgrade of American teasuries is the result of a terrible deal on the debt crisis, writes Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. "Its long-term approach to debt--lacking any serious entitlement reform--is timid and illusory. Its short-term austerity is counterproductive in a stalled economy. The real economic need is exactly the opposite: long-term austerity and immediate inducements to investment, growth and hiring." But beyond these immediate failings is the political choice America has made of late to prioritize spending on the country's elderly rather than on the youth. "The problem is that there are two periods of economic dependence in life--late and early. A healthy society not only cares for its elderly but also cultivates its children... [T]he federal government now spends $6 on seniors for every $1 it spends on children, even though the poverty rate of children is much higher." This is a poor decision, Gerson writes, and one that shows a nation more focused on its own future comfort rather than the performance of its next generation--"the mark of a tired nation" he calls it. Instead of cutting entitlements, the government will look for savings with the miltary and education. They can reverse course, but Gerson worries that Obama is "ideologically unprepared" to do so.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.